After a game that so much happened in, I found it difficult deciding where to start this piece. So I will just get this out of the way, and then breakdown some of the game: Jimmy Garoppolo is done for the season (torn ACL), Richard Sherman is out for 3 weeks or so (calf strain), and Person is a warrior who has found a way to earn more and more of my respect week after week (he may also miss Sunday’s game against the Chargers foot sprain). Although there were other injuries during this game, everyone else is being evaluated today and will have their statuses updated later.
When it comes to how things unfolded Sunday against the Chiefs, we see a tale of two halves. The 49ers were completely flat in the opening half of the game — on both sides of the ball. The first play of the game was a clear indication of what was to come. QB Jimmy Garoppolo had his TE George Kittle wide open for a decent gain and placed the ball perfectly. Kittle then elevated to make the catch, got both hands on the ball, but somehow dropped it without any contact occurring (flashback to Vance McDonald nightmares). The football gods had made up their minds at that very moment and it would soon become very clear — the Niners simply were not worthy. The offense exited the first half with a lousy 10 points, while the defense relinquished 35 first-half points. The continued onslaught seemed inevitable at this point.
When the team emerged from the tunnel to begin the second half, they immediately went on defense. The defense accomplished something that I didn’t think we would see all day — forcing the Chiefs to punt the ball! The offense would fight and crawl their way back in, but it would prove to be an insurmountable deficit to overcome. The Chiefs benefited from a 49ers team that just could not consistently execute, one that gave up over 140 yards in penalties, and even some awarded points they may not have earned.
The offense had a hard time getting going early on in the game. There were times where it seemed like they finally found their groove and were marching down the field, but more often than not, it didn’t result in anything. Since the game still lingers strongly in our minds, lets just take a look at a few plays from the offense…
The play above was the first touchdown of the day for the 49ers. Juszcyzk starts to the left of Joe Staley and gets to the second level untouched. This was an easy pass to make for Garoppolo and even though it was under-thrown, the play design almost guaranteed a touchdown as long as the play was executed properly. Other than the points, something else positive I see here is how quickly Kyle “Juice” Juszcyzk realizes that this pass is under-thrown. Often this season, we have seen other WRs or TEs running full speed and an under-thrown pass results in flailing of the arms and drastic movements to change direction in hopes to make the catch. Juice is a natural pass catcher. I would even venture to say that he’s a better catcher than runner.
Let’s keep going with another play that involved Juice that I liked:
This was probably one of my favorite plays of the entire game! Now, I will let you all know that I can’t tell you what the name of this play is or what type of play it is either, but I loved it just the same. If I had to guess, the play was designed to look like a triple option, but I’m not sure passing was ever a viable option here. With the immediate hand-off to Juice was great but its how Juszcyzk reacts with the ball in his hand that I loved the most. As soon as he gets the ball, he begins to run upright (which should’ve been a dead give away that he was going to toss it, and perhaps it was), but the next part is to sell it. Juice held onto the ball until he was about two feet away from Justin Houston. At this point, all the parties (Juice, Houston and Breida) know the ball is going to Breida, but its all about the sell! Juice looked as though he was willing to run head first into Houston to make this play work, and that’s what I love! Let’s take another look at this play from a different angle just so we can fully appreciate it!
Looking at it again, you can see the exact moment Houston freezes, and that’s precisely when Juice pitches to Breida. A WORK OF ART! Since Breida was a contributor to this play, lets transition to something I liked when watching him this week!
Breida was very decisive this week and he was just as explosive with his runs. The offensive line is giving him plenty of space and he’s not even having to break a ton of tackles to get big gains.
This play emphasizes how well the team is blocking for Cheetah. The pitch is caught seven yards behind the line of scrimmage (-7). First contact isn’t made until about five yards down field (+12 from reception of the ball). Once that “tackle” is broken (Allen Bailey got a hand on him but I wouldn’t necessarily call that a tackle), Breida isn’t contacted again until he is 18 yards down beyond the LOS and his momentum takes him forward another two yards. A very impressive 20-yard carry, but wait, there’s more!
This is an excellent display of patience, vision and explosion! Unlike the play above, this play isn’t blocked well at all. There was a huge traffic jam to the right, where the play was originally designed to go, but that doesn’t stop #22! There is a reason Breida is the leading rusher in the league (tied for 1st and his match has way more carries than he does). Did you see how he jumped OUT of that hole?!
There is a lot to build on from the offensive perspective, but the team faces a new challenge this week and we could see some things we haven’t seen all season with Beathard under center. And that will lead me to last offensive play from the game. On 4th and goal from the 7-yard line, the 49ers made their last attempt to pull within one score.
There are two things to note on this play. First, Beathard lays a total dime in the endzone to his fellow Iowa Hawkeye alumni, TE George Kittle. The patience in the pocket, the poise and control, the touch and the placement were all perfect. However, the refs came up with yet another bogus call here — and that is the second thing I would like to direct your attention to. Kyle Juszcyzk was flagged for offensive pass-interference here. Before the ball is snapped, Juice is lined up at the bottom of the screen. He is attempting to run his route and make a play on the ball that wasn’t intended for him. This article isn’t about how bad officiating has been but if it was, it would be at least 3x as long!
Shanahan obviously runs a rhythmic offense and it is not one that needs time to get going. However, when (and if) that rhythm is interrupted, it takes a while to get back on their feet. The team needs to come out more aggressive and perhaps start the game as if they are already down multiple scores. If the offense wasn’t so stagnant coming out the gate, they were more than capable of going toe-to-toe with this offense, which was ranked #1 in the NFL heading into the game. Dropped passes are still an issue and so are offensive penalties, but hopefully these are things that can be corrected sooner rather than later. Without Garoppolo under center, the running game could become the focal point of this offense. The 49ers are currently ranked second in rushing yards with the league leader on our roster. Games should be more fun to watch now and a lot less frustrating. Not to mention expectations are already a lot lower, so it will be a lot easier for them to do better than we all expected.
Much like the offense, the defense was completely night-and-day between halves. They were even more Jekyll and Hyde than the offense, actually. In the first half, the Chiefs never had to punt, and marched up and down the field at will. Patrick Mahomes lead his offense to score 35 points in the first half, yet only 3 in the second. That could be, in part, because they realized the size of the lead they had and decided they could play it safe. However, even as the 49ers made their rally from behind, the home team could only muster up a field goal. There were a few good defensive plays to be made in the first half. There were a couple 3rd-and-longs that were converted that should have never made it. I felt like every time 3rd and long came up, the 49ers got great penetration, but suddenly forgot how to tackle. One of the most frustrating feelings is hopelessness. And I experienced a lot of it watching the 1st half of this game.
As previously mentioned, the 49ers will be without Richard Sherman for the next 3 weeks (2 if we’re lucky), but there was this one play… the first time all season… actually, the first time in my entire life, I stood and loudly cheered for Richard Sherman during a football game! Reflecting on that now, I should’ve known that was a bad omen!
This play nearly gave me a heart attack! Watching this play develop was one of the longest moments I experienced all game! I remember thinking:
“That’s too nice of a pocket! There’s no pressure! He’s going deep! Who is he targeting? Is that Sherman?! OMG he’s beat! Look at that separation! SHERM CLOSED THE GAP!!!! WAY TO PLAY! LET’S GO BABY!!! Are we going to get called for PI?!”
That was a my play-by-play recap of that play. Richard Sherman looked great on that play using a trail technique. I knew for sure he couldn’t recover but now I realize why teams covet DBs with long arms. In short, that was a great pass-breakup.
Speaking of PBUs how about the return of the Ferrari! Reuben Foster was back and making his presence felt early! He picked up right where he left off, even giving us an injury scare in classic Reuben fashion. However, the inside linebacker showed us flashes of what he did in preseason against Tavon Austin. Don’t be surprised to see the following play on the next Baldy Breakdown:
There are a few things that were impressive to me here. First, realize how quickly Foster diagnoses this play. When the ball is snapped, you can see him hop up to play the run. As his feet land from the hop, he has already realized its a fake hand-off. He then turns in the direction the QB is scrambling and then whips his head around to identify his new assignment. As soon as Ferrari sees Chris Conley, he drops into another gear to gain ground — since the WR already had about 2 yards of separation on him! He is still able to catch up and make the play. Amazing!
The defense started even slower than the offense did, but was also in position to get off the field during the first half. Well, if they could only finish plays. Missed tackles are more of an issue for this unit than penalties and blown-coverages are — and thats saying something! I’m not sure the team will learn to tackle overnight. It’s been an ongoing issue that doesn’t seem to want to go away. With the loss of Sherman, and Ahkello Witherspoon doing his best Rashard Robinson impersonation (drawing flags at every opportunity), this secondary is in for quite the test going forward. The lack of pressure on QBs is something we thought we would see, and the team hasn’t disappointed there. ‘Lacking’ is a kind word to describe our pass rush. When the team does get in the back field, they rarely are able to bring down the QB.
The play above was on the last drive of the game when the 49ers desperately needed to get the ball back. It was 3rd and 12, and the refs decided that there was a pass-interference penalty on Witherspoon. Now, this is not the close up of the play but I watched it a few times and I’m extremely confident that this was a horrible call. This, however is not the worst phantom flag of the game. The timing was horrid, don’t get me wrong, but this play at this spot on the field, under normal circumstances, would allow a team to rally back. Lets get to the really bad ones!
When I was growing up, I remember hearing my dad and his friends teaching me that “points are a premium” in the NFL. Meaning that they were hard to come by; well, this ain’t my father’s NFL anymore. The league is changing rules every single year — making it harder and harder for defensive players to do their jobs. Just two seasons ago, the attack was focused on the secondary when the league decided to emphasize the “defenseless receiver” rule. This year they have this two-hand-touch rule for how to sack the QBs, but this was even worse. A ball that landed a whopping eight yards away from the inteded target (and out of the endzone) was ruled pass-interference, and gave the Chiefs the ball on the 1-yard line with a fresh set of downs! Now, even though the Chiefs had a 99.5% chance of scoring following this penalty, this still wasn’t the worst part of officiating we saw.
This was easily the most aggregious portion of officiating I witnessed all game, and I still haven’t seen many people complain about it (aside from 49ers Twitter). Perhaps my angle is bad and this went through the uprights, but every time I watch this, I see the football going high and wide to the (kicker’s) left. Without any sort of review, the officials instantly gave the Chiefs their final points of the game!
It’s extremely hard to win games in the NFL. Playing against the eleven men on the opposite side of you is hard enough. However when you have to beat the seven officials as well, your chances are slim to none. I’m not saying or suggesting that the 49ers would’ve won had it not been for officiating. What I’m saying is they simply made it a lot harder than it was supposed to be.
Hey, is sports betting legal now?
My last note for this article:
I'm feeling super negative today about #49ers football. We're about to watch 13 games of dogshit, and the two wins that CJ Beathard gets will push us out of contention for elite edge rush in the draft. The niners are cursed
— John Burke (@jblesthree) September 25, 2018
John was kind enough to grant me permission to use his tweet in this article. What I wanted it for was to encourage you all. The team is not lost. Jimmy has as many starts as Beathard. Although Jimmy has the better set of skills, Beathard has more experience in this system. He has gone through two full offseasons with Shanahan, and has settled in to his role much more. The Beathard we saw last year could potentially return, but it’s just not likely. We have the #2 rushing attack in the league, and that is with Shanahan taking advantage of Jimmy’s passing acumen. Imagine tuning the offense to Beathard — running the ball more, moving the pocket due to CJ’s superior athleticism, and giving the defense more time to rest (since they’d be running the ball more). There are some things to be hopeful for and I’m eager to see how the games go from here on out. The schedule has about three really tough games left, and then the CJ Beathard-lead 49ers are on level playing fields.
Don’t fret, don’t falter and don’t panic. Prepare for glory, anticipate pain, but always remain faithful!